Every year, cold and flu viruses strike with a vengeance. Children stay home from school, colleagues drop like dominoes, pain and misery ensues. While flu shots are available, they don’t always target the precise strain of the virus that’s being transmitted. And with colds, our main recourse is rest and to use supplements and botanicals that help support the immune system.
To make matters worse, we aren’t very good at gauging our own health, often thinking we’re on the mend when we actually need more rest. This is complicated by the constant need to feel productive. The viral misery is compounded by mental images of work piling up in our absence, requiring urgent attention. We endure the fatigue and discomfort and drag ourselves to work. As a result, we don’t heal properly and risk spreading the virus to friends and co-workers.
Does it have to be this way? While no prevention strategy is perfect, there are many measures we can take to boost our immunity and stop, or at least minimize cold and flu. It just takes a little planning.
One common preventive strategy is the flu vaccine, which can be helpful in some cases but also has a number of shortcomings. Remember, vaccines work by priming our acquired immunity to immediately recognize a specific virus and kill it. But, as noted, sometimes researchers guess wrong and create a vaccine for a less prevalent strain, limiting its effectiveness. Also, vaccines are predicated on a healthy immune system. For those who are elderly, very young, or may have a condition that compromises their immunity, the shot’s effectiveness may be dramatically reduced. Furthermore, some studies in children have suggested that, while flu shots can boost immunity against a specific strain of flu virus, they can weaken immune responses to other viruses, making children more susceptible to other illnesses.
Other flu shot considerations include side effects, such as fatigue and sore muscles, and the presence of mercury, sometimes used as preservative. If you do choose to get a flu shot, be sure to try to minimize your risks and exposure to mercury.
Ultimately, each individual has to make his or her own decision. But the most important thing to remember is that the flu shot is not fail-safe. Our best bet is to layer multiple preventive strategies. If one is less than effective, others can fill the breach.
Often we don’t think about getting a cold or flu until we’re actually sick. One of the primary steps in preventing disease is being mindful of the risks. The first rule is to follow common-sense precautions. Frequent hand washing is a must, denying viruses a foothold. If someone in your office has shown poor judgment—and we’ve all done it at some point—and come back to work before we are better, do your best to keep your distance. You may even gently encourage him/her to spend a little more time in bed, and he/she may thank you for giving him or her the grace to go home.
With or without a flu shot, it’s always important to be aware of our immune system. Fortunately, it’s relatively easy to enhance immunity. For example, drinking plenty of fresh water helps in a number of ways – flushing out viruses and bacteria, boosting immune circulation, and increasing communication between immune cells. Regular exercise also has been shown to enhance immunity. We also can build immunity by simply doing something we love: Enjoying time with our family and friends or doing a cherished activity. Happiness and laughter are specifically shown to offer a significant boost. Conversely, stress can dramatically weaken the immune system and is a risk factor for long-term illness, as shown in numerous published studies. Find healthy ways to reduce stress, such as exercise, deep breathing, meditation, and doing things that bring you happiness and satisfaction.
As always, eating healthy foods is a must for health, but especially for a strong immune system. Again, our busy lifestyles can make it difficult to prepare nutritious meals, but a little planning can go a long way. An unprocessed food diet rich in lean protein, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables will provide an abundance of phytonutrients and antioxidants, and it can do much to support the immune system. In particular, cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower, and kale, are metabolized by the body into a compound called DIM, which provides powerful immune and overall health support.
Perhaps the most important preventive step is to get enough sleep. More than 60 million Americans have some type of sleep problem, which can lead to a number of chronic illnesses, not to mention fatigue. Quite simply, the body needs its rest. Without it, things break down — and the immune system is very near the top of that list.
IMMUNE BOOSTING KIT
There are many natural supplements that boost immunity while providing other health benefits, as well. A popular example is vitamin C, an immunity booster as well as an antioxidant. Another good supplement is vitamin D, which also supports the immune system and has been shown to have antiviral properties, among other benefits.
There is probably no more important mineral to the immune system than zinc. Whether it’s the innate immunity (the first line of defense against pathogens) or the acquired immunity (the antibodies that recognize invaders and destroy them), zinc is an essential component. Zinc deficiency has been shown to depress the immune system, making us more susceptible to infection. On the other hand, supplementing with zinc has been proven to boost immunity.
Vitamins, such as C and D, and minerals, such as zinc, are cheap and an easy starts to strengthen your system. However, there are other, more sophisticated approaches to immune health that can really pay off when cold and flu season rolls around. Click here to see some of my favorites.